Christmas Eve, 2007
Here we are again. It’s Christmas Eve. This is that special time of year we love so much! We look forward to this celebration every year, with great excitement and great anticipation. Or do we?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Christmas celebration this year. Several weeks ago, a good friend of mine said to me, “This is your busiest time of year, isn’t it?” And I thought for a moment and I said to him, “You know, it is, and it isn’t.” Certainly there are many things to do, and much to prepare. But on the other hand, it’s an easy time of the year in this sense. The stories are all the same, the scriptures are all the same, and even the music is the same. So in a way, planning is easier this time of year than most.”
Isn’t that true? Think about how many times you’ve heard the various parts of the Christmas story! Hundreds of times, I’m sure! I was in Target (Tar-je’) the other day, and I was looking through the Christmas cards. And I found one that had Linus on the front. That’s Charlie Brown’s little friend. He was standing on that stage in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” By the way, Linus is looking pretty good for being over 50 years old!!
Well, the card was one of those that had sound. And when I opened it, I heard those familiar words in that familiar child’s voice, “And in that region there were shepherds out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night, and lo, an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid, and the angel saith unto them, “Be not afraid, for behold I bring you good tidings of a great joy that shall be to all people…” I can still hear that voice. I can still remember the words. (And “A Charlie Brown Christmas” first came out in the early ‘60’s!)
This time of year is all about the familiar stories and the traditional scriptures, and even the same songs. And aren’t they wonderful to us?! And I got to thinking that there is always this dichotomy in our Christmas celebration. There is the old and the new. The old is familiar to us. The old is comfortable to us. The old is meaningful to us. And that is wonderful! But there is, at the same time, the new to consider. What does the new do to our celebration? Just imagine what it was like for those who experienced this Christmas stories first hand! For them, there was excitement. There was fear! There was that sense of newness and vitality to this story. We need those things in our Christmas celebration as well, don’t we?
It seems to me that there is a certain balance in this. If we think only in terms of the old and the familiar, we will lose the vitality and the excitement. And our celebration will become mundane, and we may find ourselves “just going through the motions.” Do you ever feel that way about Christmas? Do you ever find yourself longing for it “just to be over?”
On the other hand, if we think only in terms of the new, we will lose that tradition and that familiarity associated with this wondrous time of the year. It will be like visiting an old friend and renewing a relationship after many years, and yet never talking about the good times we had together!
We need both the old and the new in this celebration. In fact, the challenge is to take the old and make it new again. The challenge is to think of these familiar stories, perhaps by separating them a little bit from the “Biblical context,” and trying to imagine what this was all like the first time around! Perhaps the thing to do is to imagine what it was like to hear these things from God and his Angel messengers for the very first time!
While you’re thinking about that, let me also challenge you to think in the same ways about your faith and your relationship with God. There needs to be that same balance there, too! We need the old things. We need the traditions. They’re comfortable to us. But we need the new, too. That’s what makes our faith alive and vibrant. Otherwise, our it too will become mundane, and we will find ourselves again, “just going through the motions.”
Now, my assumption here is that we’re pretty good at remembering the old. We’re pretty good at honoring the traditions, and keeping the familiar. That side of the balance comes fairly naturally for us. Especially for us Presbyterians! The challenge is to take the old and to find ways of making it new again.
That doesn’t come so easy for us. Seeking the presence of God, keeping that relationship alive and vibrant – new every morning, that’s the challenge! Taking that which is familiar to us – and is wonderful –and keeping it from becoming routine and mundane, that’s the challenge God gives to every one of us!
What’s old needs to be new again! Our faith, in all the richness and diversity of it’s stories and traditions must always be made new again. Or we may find ourselves living out the words of the Spirit of God to the Church in Ephesus in Revelation 2. The spirit said to that Church, “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you. You have abandoned the love [for God that] you had at first.” Perhaps we need to recapture that first love for God!
We live in a world where sensationalism is all the rage! We live in a world where the advertisers are always trying out new ways to make things look more exciting to us. And we get caught up in that! And we buy their things. But then we get them home, and we look at them in the box – and something is lost. Because, that excitement cannot be boxed, can it?
We sometimes forget that excitement in our faith. In fact, we wonder if faith can even be all that exciting. Unfortunately, we compare it with all the glitz and glamour in the world around us, and it doesn’t seem all that exciting. But if we really think about it – and I’m afraid we don’t all that often – but if we do think about it, everything else in our world pales in comparison! The Treasures in Heaven Jesus told us about are not consumed by moth and rust! They are more lasting than any excitement of the moment.
So, enjoy this season. Enjoy the time you spend with family and good friends. Enjoy the gifts, but keep them in proper perspective. Enjoy the stories, but remember that balance. Try to see how the old has become new again. Remember that first love for God. Seek his presence continually, as the psalmist said.
May your Christmas celebration be for you vibrant, joyful, and exciting! May that thought, “What’s old is new again,” be true for you.
Eternal God, we thank you that you indeed make all things new. We thank you that love for us is fresh and new every morning. Help us to keep that balance in our Christmas celebration and in our lives, so that we may keep the beauty and wonder of the ancient stories, but that they may become new to us every day. We pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.